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Monday, July 19, 2010

Crime And Punishment U.S.A. (1959)

The idea of taking Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s great novel CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and transferring it from 1860s St. Petersburg to 1950s L.A. might seem whacked at first but despite some failings in the execution, it works a lot better than you might suspect. A young law student (George Hamilton in his film debut) brutally murders an old woman. He feels as a superior being, he is beyond the law but then begins a cat and mouse game between the police lieutenant (the wonderful Frank Silvera) who suspects him and Hamilton in living up to his “superman” ideals vs. his conscience. The young Hamilton was still a promising actor here and hadn’t yet turned into the butt of so many jokes. Though he doesn’t quite have the weight to carry the part, he was good enough to get nominated for a BAFTA award. Directed by two time Oscar winning Denis Sanders and shot on the streets of Venice, California; the film has an urgency to it that propels the film quite nicely. Co-starring Mary Murphy (in her best role since THE WILD ONE) as a prostitute, Marian Seldes as Hamilton’s sister and in the film’s one bad performance, John Harding as a murderous letch. An effective jazz score by Herschel Burke Gilbert.

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